I have started this post about a hundred times this week but I haven’t been able to find the words to express how I’m feeling. Elation, joy, excitement; I could go on but none of the words can sum up exactly how last weekend’s CreativeLive Penny De Los Santos food photography workshop in Seattle has made a profound impact on me and changed my life. But it has.
I have had more career attempts than I care to think about, but I was never able to feel passionate about any of them. I have been a fast food cook, computer operator, computer programmer, x-ray school student, convenience store clerk, college student, restorer of fire and water damage, waiter, administrative assistant, printing press operator, customer service rep, culinary school student, cook, sous chef, and computer technician—sort of in that order. I learned that food was my passion, but the restaurant business proved to inspire me a lot less than I expected. Then came Christmas 2009. My partner Larry gave me my first DSLR camera and I was hooked. Once I held that camera, I knew that my real passion was to photograph food. But was I good enough?
When I saw the announcement that Penny was going to be teaching the workshop, I was wild with excitement at the opportunity to learn about food photography from the best. The requirement for being chosen to attend was to create a video telling Penny why she should pick me. And although I didn’t have a clue about making a video, I did it anyway—and I think my passion showed. I was lucky enough to be chosen by Penny, along with five others, to attend the workshop. In my video I said that Penny’s workshop was going to be a life-changing event for me. I meant in terms of simply learning how to make better photographs. But, at the time I made the video, I couldn’t have known the degree to which Penny was going to change my life. Penny didn’t
merely teach me and the other five students about photography, she taught us about life, compassion, caring—how to see the world in a different way. Now I am looking at the world through a new set of eyes, and Penny gave me that gift.
When I arrived at the studio on the first day of the workshop, the CreativeLive staff met me with open arms and big hugs. They are amazing people. Then the other students started showing up and the greetings felt like a reunion—I recognized everyone from their videos (which were all remarkable). Then Penny walked in and gave every student a huge hug. I did not expect this. Penny’s warmth set the mood for the weekend.
As the workshop progressed, Penny mesmerized her six students and thousands of people who were watching live on the Internet. This was much more than just a technical photography workshop. Penny elevated it to a life lesson on following dreams and on patiently waiting for the right moment to capture compelling photographs. After hours, it was bonding time for Penny and her class, providing evenings that were filled with tremendous opportunities to learn even more.
Some of the things that I took away from Penny’s workshop: be present and listen to my instincts; be quiet and let the story come to me; connect with my subject; respect people, their sensibility and their environment; be revealing; be vulnerable. Most importantly, it all comes together through visual storytelling.
So, how exactly did this weekend with Penny change my life? Before the workshop, I was working very hard at practicing my photography skills, learning new techniques any place I could find them, putting together an online portfolio and basically getting ready to start showing my work to photo editors in hopes of landing some photography gigs. All that’s important but, before my weekend with Penny, I feared not being good enough. Penny’s last assignment for her class and the Internet was to ask ourselves if we’re not doing what we love, “why not?” She also shared with us her touching story of telling her brother that she may not be good enough to be a photographer. Then he said to her, “but what if you are good enough?”
With those two questions ringing in my ears and echoing in my heart as I flew home to Brooklyn, I resolved that every time I find myself discouraged by thoughts of not being good enough, or feeling rejection in whatever form it strikes, then I will remind myself that photography is what I want to be doing—and I just may be good enough.